Your Connected Product Could Be Your Best Customer Engagement Tool

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Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, futurist and author of X, What’s the Future of Business (WTF), Engage! and The End of Business As Usual.

In a time when connectedness is part of everyday life and people have become online media platforms, customer experiences either work for a company or against it. Those experiences, now widely spread and shared so easily, have become the new brand.

Brands are, as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos once put it, "what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

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Think about all the ways businesses have to engage customers before, during and after the transaction: social, mobile, digital (i.e. web), wearable devices, email, POS, signage, packaging, word of mouth, and so on. There’s also an entirely new channel arising that's flying under the radar of marketers today.

While not new to engineers, developers and savvy tech execs, the Internet of things (IoT) is set to become the next big trend for marketers and anyone leading service and support, product management and e-commerce initiatives.

Connecting The Dots

My colleague at Altimeter (now part of Prophet) Jessica Groopman learned in her latest research on IoT that consumers are expected to own over 20 simultaneous connected devices by the year 2020. Some of us are already close.

For those unfamiliar with IoT and its relationship to customer experience, think of it this way: Imagine that everything is connected to the Internet via a private network—your camera, watch, car, printer, oven, thermostat, lights, and more. Now imagine that each device learns how you use it.

Not only does the user experience improve through technology, but the information is managed through an intelligent customer relationship management (CRM) system of sorts. The manufacturer can learn about the customer's usage, behavior and preferences, and also anticipate needs—all in the name of personalizing and improving the user experience.

Doc Searls, author of the groundbreaking book The Cluetrain Manifesto (1999), introduced the concept of "Products-as-Platforms” a couple of years ago. He asked businesses to look at possibilities beyond marketing gimmicks. He envisioned a scenario in which customers were in control of relationships before, during and after transactions. He called this VRM, or vendor relationship management. His point was that people should be in control of relationships and products, acting as conduits, not dumb terminals.

Products, As Customer Engagement Tools

Imagine that your printer is running out of ink. Instead of merely displaying an alert, the same screen could connect you to Amazon or your favorite retailer to order replacements.

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Amazon’s Dash button offers a similar premise, but requires manual input. However, this could happen even before you’ve run out, because the printer already knows your usage behavior and has anticipated the need.

This idea of “in product communication” is what companies like Aviata are working on. If they succeed, VRM not only becomes a viable option, it may even change the game for customer experience and ultimately the mathematics of the lifetime value of a customer.

Within the context of IoT, products can continue to work for your company, even after they’ve been purchased. These items could open new channels of proactive engagement, allowing you to redefine customer engagement beyond all of the channels you lean on today.

In other words, the product itself becomes a tool for engagement and personalized "experience architecture.” This is basis for the future of customer experience, a foundation based on personalization, meaningful engagement and additive value.

This new type of product communication is incredibly promising. It could change the dynamic for how companies build relationships with their customers, beyond warranty registrations and product support. This is the future of customer relationships. What it takes is to get there is vision, purpose, a sharp eye for what your users need, and the drive to give it to them.

Lead photo by William Murphy

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